Gun Deductions

One thing I particularly enjoy doing is taking a firearm and trying to figure out as much about it as I can, based on the appearance, markings, modifications, etc. It’s the details and the stories behind old guns that make them interesting, and so it’s fun to try to tease out those details. It’s best done in person when you can examine all parts of the gun in question, but photos make a decent substitute. I recently got an email from a reader asking what I can tell him about a rifle, and I figure it would be fun to share it with you.

The rifle is a Mosin-Nagant that he bought from a pawn shop, and was wondering if it might be a Bannerman conversion. Here are the photos he sent:

To start with, this rifle was definitely not converted to .30-06, because you can see that the barrel shank is fully intact. Now, Bannerman didn’t rechamber all their Mosin-Nagant rifles, and they did sell them intact in 7.62x54R. This particular one was clearly sporterized by someone at some point (the front sight is a replacement, the bolt handle is bent, and the barrel and stock are both cut down), but almost certainly not by Bannerman. The reason is that it was made by Remington in 1918. If you are wondering what Remington was doing making Mosin Nagants, it is because Russia was in desperate need of arms during WWI, and couldn’t produce nearly enough domestically to arms its military. So the Czar placed orders with several American companies, including Mosins from New England Westinghouse and Remington, and Model 1895 lever action rifles from Winchester. Hundreds of thousands of these were being produced and delivered starting in 1915, but the 1917 Russian Revolution interrupted things. The communists stopped paying for the rifles that the Czar had ordered, and that left New England Westinghouse and Remington with a lrge stock of rifles and parts, and a significant debt from tooling up for such large production. It placed both companies in very serious financial trouble, and so the US government stepped in and bailed them out by purchasing the remaining rifles. Some went to the National Guard, some were used for training, some went on the Archangel Expedition with the Michigan Polar Bears…but American soldiers really were not enthusiastic about them. By the early 1920s, the government decided to sell them as surplus at a significant financial loss. Bannerman is one of the companies that bought a ton of these, and sold them in various configurations

At any rate, the rifle here is dated 1918, which means it could not have been in that batch. production of those rifles stopped in 1917. However, the Russian embassy in the US remained open, and in 1918 it contracted separately for about 100,000 more rifles on behalf of the anti-communist forces fighting in the Russian civil war at the time. This rifle is one of those guns – it went to Russia in 1918.

Now, the mark on the stock is interesting. It is a letter “L” over a pair of crossed cannons, which is the mark of a Finnish stock manufacturer. So the stock is Finnish – but we don’t know for sure if the rifle was captured by the Finns or if the stock is simply a replacement added later. Normally, when the Finns captured M91 rifles, they would cross out the range markings on the rear sight, which are Arshini (1 arshin = 28 inches), and remark them in meters on the other side – and this has clearly not been done on this rifle. They would also typically stamp the side of the barrel with a Finnish property mark, the letters “SA” in a box. That mark would not necessarily be visible in the photos provided, so we can’t say for sure if it is or isn’t there. I have seen rifles that were definitely Finnish with neither of these typical markings, though, so we also can’t rule out Finnish ownership.

Most likely, the rifle was captured by the Finns. Not many M91 rifles that stayed in Russian hands ever came into the US, because of Cold War animosity barring arms trade between the US and USSR. Most M91s that came into the US did so through Finland (which sold off piles of them as surplus after WWII) and the Balkans. If it were in original military configuration, it would be work probably $400-$500. In its sporterized state, it has lost most collector’s value (although it retains the cool history) and is worth something like $100.